A stretch of three Central Division titles in four seasons including a charge to last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals with an experienced, veteran-laden club, meant heavy graduation for longtime Barrie stars and the introduction of fresh faces this season.
Suspicions of a challenging year were confirmed as the 2016-17 schedule wore on and the Colts had a tough go of things in the Eastern Conference standings, finishing 17-44-6-1 with a league-low 41 points.
With the trying times now endured, in all reality, it’s a great time to be a Barrie Colts fan.
Holding the first overall pick in Saturday’s OHL Priority Selection, the first overall pick in next Wednesday’s OHL Under-18 Priority Selection, and the first overall pick in June’s CHL Import Draft, the Colts have a golden opportunity to add quality high-end talent to their depth chart.
The last time the Colts finished in the basement, they took a guy by the name of Aaron Ekblad first overall and reached Game 7 of the OHL Championship Series two years later.
A brighter tomorrow could be right around the corner.
“You never like to miss the playoffs, but this here is the upside, the chance to select the best player available to you,” Colts general manager Jason Ford said of the opportunity. “We’ve watched a lot of hockey and narrowed things down. It’s a tough decision to make, but a good situation to be in.”
While Ford was mum on specifics, many have surmised that head coach Dale Hawerchuk’s Colts are eyeing a highly-skilled forward with their first pick who they’ll introduce on Friday afternoon in advance of Saturday’s draft.
Names remaining in the first overall discussion have included ALLIANCE Player of the Year Ryan Suzuki of the London Jr. Knights, a GTHL Champion in Mississauga Rebels centreman Philip Tomasino or possibly an OHL Cup Powered by Under Armour Champion in Mississauga Reps pivot Jamieson Rees.
Other prominent first round names have included the likes of Toronto Nationals forwards Brandon Coe and Ethan Keppen, high-scoring Toronto Marlboros like Graeme Clarke or Jack Hughes, Ajax-Pickering Raiders centreman Connor McMichael and big Oakland Jr. Grizzlies power forward Tag Bertuzzi.
Regardless of whose name gets called, Ford assures fans that this player will be a first class talent.
“There are some outstanding players to choose from,” he noted. “Some things have happened here over the past couple weeks, and I’m a believer that things work out that way for a reason. Moving forward we know we’re going to come away with a really good player and try and build off that pick in the proceeding rounds.”
Though there weren’t a ton of victories to cheer about at the Molson Centre this past season, the Colts have equipped themselves with a base upon which to build.
Last year’s first round pick Tyler Tucker, a sturdily built two-way defenceman took big strides as a 16-year-old while early season Russian addition Kirill Nizhnikov flashed some of the offensive upside that got the attention of scouts ahead of last year’s OHL Priority Selection.
Add to that the developing game of centreman Jason Willms, the seemingly endless growth of 6-foot-8 winger Curtis Douglas and the emergence of Christian Propp in the crease and the Colts have some good complementary pieces scattered throughout the depth chart.
Easily forgotten in all of this is 2016 first round selection Jack McBain, a 6-foot-3 left-handed shot that put up 41 points (12-29–41) as a 16-year-old in Tier II last season. Add him to the mix and things in Barrie could turn around pretty quick.
“We think the world of Jack as a player and as an individual,” said Ford of McBain who has yet to announce a commitment to the Colts. “He’s a great kid and is the calibre of player that we felt could have fit right into our lineup as a 16-year-old last season. He’s very much in our plans and we’ll wait and see what’s in store.”
Apart from their two last place finishes in 2011 and 2016, the Colts have been a consistent presence in the Ontario Hockey League, winning seven Central Division titles and producing the likes of current day NHLers in Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), Bryan Little (Winnipeg Jets), Tanner Pearson (Los Angeles Kings), Kyle Clifford (Los Angeles Kings) and Andreas Athanasiou (Detroit Red Wings).
Since being crowned OHL Champions in 2000, the Colts came three wins away from a repeat against Erie in 2002, reached the Final to suffer a sweep against powerhouse Windsor in 2010 and lost on a Championship Game 7 last second heartbreaker to Bo Horvat’s London Knights in 2013.
With plenty of young talent already in the stable and three first overall picks on the horizon, the next Colts could be franchise cornerstones with the opportunity to grow together and lead the franchise towards an exciting future.